Thursday, July 2, 2009 By: Suzanne

My Favorite Reads: House of Leaves

My Favorite Reads is hosted by Alyce on her blog At Home With Books. The idea is to take a book you read before you started blogging and tell your readers about it.

This week I chose House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

From Wikipedia:

The format and structure of the novel is unconventional, with unusual page layout and style, making it ergodic literature. It contains copious footnotes, many of which contain footnotes themselves, and some of which reference books that do not exist. Some pages contain only a few words or lines of text, arranged in strange ways to mirror the events in the story, often creating both an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic effect. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, who interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways.

Danielewski expands on this point in an interview: "I had one woman come up to me in a bookstore and say, 'You know, everyone told me it was a horror book, but when I finished it, I realized that it was a love story.' And she's absolutely right. In some ways, genre is a marketing tool."[2]

House of Leaves has been described as a "satire of academic criticism."


House of Leaves begins with a first-person narrative by Johnny Truant, a Los Angeles tattoo parlor employee. Truant is searching for a new apartment when his friend Lude tells him about the apartment of the recently deceased Zampanò, a blind, elderly man who lived in Lude's building.

In Zampanò's apartment, Truant discovers a manuscript written by Zampanò that turns out to be an academic study of a documentary film called The Navidson Record.

The rest of the novel alternates between Zampanò's report on the fictional film, Johnny's autobiographical interjections, a small transcript of part of the film from Navidson's brother, Tom, a small transcript of interviews to many people regarding The Navidson Record by Navidson's partner, Karen, and occasional brief notes by unidentified editors, all woven together by a mass of footnotes. There is also another narrator, Johnny's mother, whose voice is presented through a self-contained set of letters titled The Whalestoe Letters. Each narrator's text is printed in a distinct font, making it easier for the reader to follow the occasionally challenging format of the novel.

Why I chose this novel:
I recently picked up Danielewski's second book Only Revolutions, which I was not even aware of until I saw it on sale at Barnes and Noble the other day. The minute I saw the book I was so happy that no other book in the store could hold my interest.

I so loved House of Leaves that anytime I come across someone who's read the book, I just gush with them about the book for as long as they will let me. This is usually a long time, because anyone else who's actually finished the book generally loves it as much as I did. It's the most amazing and unique book I've ever read. I'm not finding Only Revolutions to be as amazing and unique, but I am enjoying it's difference from everything else I usually read.

The story told in The Navidson Record within House of Leaves is such a crazy and engrossing story that sometimes when I think about the book, that's the first thing I remember, even though the part that made the most impact on me upon finishing the book was Johnny's story. I guess what I remember most is that The Navidson Record was so strange, that it even affected Johnny and all those who read it, including me.

This book is a little difficult to get through if you like being a passive reader. You have to constantly switch back and forth between different stories and footnotes (which become a story in themselves), all sometimes within the same page. Sometimes you have to read a few pages and then flip back to start again on a page you've already read, but in a spot you haven't read yet because there is a separate story there. Anyone who hasn't finished the book cites this as the main reason. I have yet to hear anyone say they are not fascintaed by the story within the Navidson Record but they sometimes say they were bored with the footnotes or Johnny's story. Trust me, if you can get through the parts you don't like, you'll realize eventually they are part of the story and you will not be disappointed.


Alyce said...

This book sounds so very different from anything I've ever read before! If had just read a description of it without your wonderful endorsement I would never have even considered reading it.

It does sound like it would be a lot of work to read this book. I think this would be a good book for a challenge - something to take me out of my comfort zone.